"Estrogen dominance" is a phrase that's you've probably heard a lot lately in regards to fat loss. While it’s true that too much estrogen causes trouble for fat loss—as well as estrogen related cancers (i.e. breast, uterine, etc), it’s an essential hormone for fat loss as well. Confusing, huh?
What’s even more important is that every woman has her own unique hormonal balance that is ideal for her, so sweeping recommendations to lower or minimize estrogen is a mistake. And although estrogen does contribute to more fat in hips and thighs, we can’t look at woman with fuller hips and assume she’s got high estrogen.
It’s just not that simple, ladies—but when are we ever that simple?
The female hormone cycle is truly a symphony of several key hormones—and it doesn’t take much being out of tune for the whole thing to sound dreadful. Each event in the hormone cycle triggers the next event, so as one hormone domino falls, another is soon to follow. Meaning, if you’ve got an estrogen issue, you’ve also got a progesterone issue. So it’s best not to get fixated on any one hormone as we sift through the complicated female hormone landscape.
That said, what is "too much estrogen?"
Let’s look at what’s normal first. While many, many women have hormonal disruptions due to stress, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), taking the pill, menopause, etc., normally estrogen dominates the first half of the menstrual cycle and progesterone dominates the second half. Problems arise when estrogen is too high too often.
Estrogen dominance happens any time that estrogen dominates the hormonal landscape rather than being in balance with other hormones for that woman, for that particular time in her life.
Here are a couple ways estrogen dominance can occur:
Just because you have "estrogen dominance" doesn't mean that your estrogen is too high. Your progesterone could simply be too low. Whether progesterone is low due to stress, taking estrogen (the Pill, hormone replacement, etc.), or when a woman has ovulation issues (such as with PCOS) there will be an overt or relative estrogen dominance.
While this time in a woman’s life is characterized by overall sex hormone decline, there are spikes and fluctuations in estrogen as the ovaries start to fail and the brain tries very hard to stimulate them to make estrogen. Also, while both estrogen and progesterone are falling, progesterone will fall more, creating a “relative estrogen excess” (essentially the spread between estrogen and progesterone widens).
When we say “estrogen,” we are usually talking about estradiol, aka E2. But there is also E1 and E3. E3 is considered “good” or "protective," while E1 and E2 are active and more problematic (particularly E1).
Next, these estrogens need to be metabolized by the liver into safe metabolites—if not, we get troublesome estrogens floating. Lastly, all this metabolized estrogen has to be eliminated through the digestive tract—if not, they will get taken back up into the body and continuing having estrogen activity. Trouble in any of these three areas can create estrogen dominance. Buying your meat and dairy products from a small, local farm reduces the chances that they will contain excess estrogen.
While we really have no environmental progesterone mimickers, there is quite a lot of estrogen coming our way these days. There is estrogen in most commercially raised meat and all dairy. Many foods and herbs such as soy have phytoestrogen properties which can have a weak estrogenic effect for some women. And plastics as well as many preservatives (i.e. parabens) and pesticides have estrogen activity.
Want to know more? Read my article discussing how estrogen dominance can affect fat loss, and how to know if you have estrogen dominance.
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